Cricket: Ireland coach Simmons chasing elusive ODI triumph
Three years into the job and seven months before Phil Simmons takes on the world, the West Indian is happy at work and relishing the challenge.
After playing alongside greats such as Viv Richards, Malcolm Marshall, Courtney Walsh and Curtley Ambrose, it could be seen as something of a comedown to take on the role of coach of an Associate nation.
But Simmons, the outstanding candidate when he was interviewed for the Ireland job at the beginning of 2007, loves every minute of it and with 26 Test appearances and 143 ODIs at the highest level he is now enjoying success one level down.
He has already been on the winning side with Ireland when his squad beat Bangladesh at the World Twenty20 in Nottingham last year but victory as Irish coach over a Full Member in a ODI is still missing from his CV.
So how would a win at Stormont today — or tomorrow — rate among his achievements?
“It would be a big achievement but only for the reason that it would give us the confidence to move ahead in our plans for the World Cup,” said Simmons.
“But I would rather miss out this week and win at the World Cup, though at this stage we are playing well enough to beat a Full Member.”
A coaching role was not something Simmons had even thought of until he joined Leicestershire as their most popular overseas professional.
“Just before I finished playing I was encouraged to coach by Tim Boon and soon got the opportunity in (his home island of) Trinidad and continued to see where it would take me,” he recalls.
He was coach for three seasons at the Queen’s Park Oval and after two years looking after the Zimbabwe Academy, Simmons took charge of the senior team in 2004.
Just over a year later, he left in controversial circumstances and the fall-out continues to this day with monies still being owed.
But he had got the coaching bug - he knew he was good at it - and, when the Irish Cricket Union were looking for a successor to Adrian Birrell following the South African’s decision to quit the post after the 2007 World Cup, Simmons took the plunge.
He didn’t expect to be involved in Ireland’s great adventure in the Caribbean but Birrell, always one step ahead, knew it would be beneficial to have Simmons’ local experience for a World Cup in the West Indies.
It suited both parties, as Simmons admits: “It was good of Adi to have me at the World Cup because a lot of coaches wouldn’t want (their successor) but I got an idea what it was like to be part of the team, the players got to know me so that was a good start coming into the team environment.”
And after a lifetime working with full-time players, Simmons had to learn fast.
“The big difference is when you work with guys on their game,” he said. “It’s hard when they come together for just two days and then return to clubs but when you work with guys day in, day out, you change things easier and push things in the direction you think it may need to go where the player is concerned.”
Three years on, he has six contracted players to work with and he added: “For the guys we work with during the week, they are happy to train every day without going to work.
“It is such a big difference and you can see in their performance. Players are willing to work and that’s the good thing.”
So how and when will Simmons expect to be judged?
“You judge progress by success and to do better than 2007 we have to do just as well as they did or even better in 2011,” he added.
“We make that judgement when we get to the World Cup and how we perform there.”
First though, the target is that elusive first win over a Full Member.